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Lost in Translation? The Terminology and Practice of Islamic Gifts in Early Modern Travel Accounts in English

Intraduisibles ? Terminologie et pratique des cadeaux en terre d’islam dans les récits de voyage anglais de la période moderne
Ladan Niayesh

Abstracts

Symbolic performance and rhetoric of service are part and parcel of the meaning and function of gifts in any given culture. Exploring the specificity of Muslim Orient’s gift terms such as pīshkash and khil‘at, which entered the English language in the wake of trade and diplomatic interactions with the Ottomans, Safavids and Mughals in the seventeenth century, this article looks into the protocols and rituals accompanying each term, as a basis for understanding their community-building value. My case studies on the contextual uses of gift terms in travel narratives from the period include Thomas Herbert’s A Relation of Some Yeares Travaile, Begvnne Anno 1626 (1634), and the first English translation by John Phillips of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier’s Six Voyages (1677). In each case, I argue, practiced uses of terminology illustrate the visitors’ cultural and linguistic attempts, but also their failures, at understanding the host system and infiltrating it.

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Introduction

  • 1 Felicity Heal, The Power of Gifts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), p. 23.
  • 2 Ibid.
  • 3 For an overview on some of the main arguments and counterarguments in the “commensurability/incomme (...)

1Gift exchanges in the context of diplomatic encounters are not solely about individuals and objects in transit, but eminently involve what and how people and objects perform in these transactional moments. As Felicity Heal reminds us in The Power of Gifts, a gift is “a process, rather than exclusively a material entity.”1 In other words, symbolic performance and the rhetoric of service are part and parcel of the meaning and function of gifts. It follows that the success of the process of gifting relies, Heal continues, “on proper understanding between the transacting parties” or, more specifically in intercultural contexts, on a measure of “cultural agreement” between the parties.2 Linguists and historians have extensively engaged over the past decades with the larger debate on cultural “commensurability” in diplomatic interactions between Europeans and their cultural others in the wake of early modern voyages of exploration and expansion across the globe, and it is not the purpose of the present article to survey that ongoing conversation.3 What interests me here is rather to address the linguistic impact of diplomatic gifting processes in early modern English texts, since it was in this period that the corpus of English lexicon began to receive and accommodate a culturally loaded terminology of gifting specifically associated to diplomatic transactions with the Islamic empires of Asia. What I find striking is that terminology’s resistance to assimilation in the body of texts where they primarily appeared, that is to say travel accounts, be they English travels or travels by other Europeans translated into English. I therefore wish to explore in this article some of the specific nuances which that foreign terminology, preserved in its original form, can carry within European records. Its uses and misuses in practice, I will contend, can make it an instrument of integration or exclusion, both for the travellers themselves and for the experience of contact which they document in their travelogues.

Oriental gifting terminology: the background

  • 4 For more on the specific Islamic terminology and corresponding practices, see Hiroyuki Yanagihaski’ (...)
  • 5 See for details H. V. Bowen’s ODNB entry on “Clive, Robert, first Baron Clive of Plassey”, <https:/ (...)
  • 6 Quoted in Harry Liebersohn, The Return of the Gift: European History of a Global Idea (Cambridge: C (...)

2A first point to be made in this respect is the pre-existence of a large corpus of gifting terms already shared by the court cultures of Islamic West, Central, and South Asia prior to interactions with and reports by European visitors. Whether of Persian or Arabic origin, that terminology had long travelled across the Persianate cultures of the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal courts, where it had accompanied gift-giving as an integral part of the social fabric and the networks of personal, political, and sometimes religious allegiances within and between those polities. A list of those terms comprises inter alia such hierarchy-building terms as Persian bakhshish or Arabic ‘atīya and īn‘ām which all suggest a superior’s favour bestowed on an inferior, presented as relief or alms, sometimes with connotations of holiness on the part of the giver. But the list also includes hadīyya which is secular in its practice and considered to be carried between equals, or nazar and waqf which both connote piety and devotional consecration by devout donors for prayers made or granted.4 Not all of these terms made it to English texts or survived there in our period or later, but some did in specific contexts, as was infamously the case during the period of spoliations under the Company Raj in eighteenth-century India. This is the context in which the OED places the first attested usage of nazar, in a 30 September 1765 letter by East India Company administrator Robert Clive. There the author mentions the “congratulatory nazirs” he had received in India for services rendered by him at the decisive battle of Plassey, which had resulted in his putting Mir Jafar on the throne as nominal Nawab of Bengal in 1757. Clive’s return to Europe in 1760 with a staggering £300,000 as personal wealth had prompted his EIC employers to take steps against company servants amassing fortunes under the pretence of complying with local princely gifting customs.5 The wording of the 1764 company prohibition gives us an idea of the variety and fluidity of wordings and practices involved in the transactions which the EIC was trying to control at that point in order to preserve its own exclusive right as the Indian authorities’ interlocutor: “any Gift, Reward, Gratuity, Allowance, or Donation, from any of the Indian princes, or any of their Ministers.”6

  • 7 Topkapi Saray Museum Library, Istanbul, MS A.3595, fols. 53b-54a. Reproduced and studied in Linda K (...)
  • 8 For more on this volume which is perhaps the most precious illustrated manuscript commissioned unde (...)

3The scandal of Clive’s “congratulatory nazirs” and his successor Warren Hastings’s impeachment and trial in 1787 on similar charges of extorsion and coercion give us the measure of the difficulty of drawing a clear line between the categories and appellations for gift, reward, tribute, booty and bribe in the Indian context of the latter half of the eighteenth century. That example shows how the floating signifier that the material gift is by itself can carry different – sometimes opposite – meanings from the perspectives given by the donor or the recipient for the sake of their audiences during and after the performed transaction. This phenomenon is nevertheless by no means limited in time and context to India in the period of the Company Raj. Indeed, to move back in time by two centuries and changing polities within the Muslim east, the example of the 1567 presentation of gifts by the Safavid ambassador of Shāh Tahmāsp II to the Ottoman Sultan Selim II on the occasion of the latter’s coronation is eloquent in this respect, as illustrated in a 1591 miniature from the Sehname-i Selim Han studied by Linda Komaroff.7 From the Ottoman perspective, the scene depicts the full glory of the seated Sultan receiving the tribute – pīshkash is the term used in the accompanying text – sent to him by a neighbouring state. The scene accordingly shows the parade of precious gifts brought by ambassador Shāh Qolī, starting with a rare Qur‘ān and the famed Shāhnama copy (Firdawsī’s Book of Kings) originally prepared under Shāh Tahmāsp I by the greatest artists of his court’s workshop.8 On the face of it, the message could not be clearer: the word of God and the chronicles of great kings of the past bless and sanction the Sultan on this special day. The ambassador himself, wearing the Turkish robe of honour he has been given, is held on both sides by guards ready to make him perform the ritual of obeisance before the Ottoman monarch. And yet, as Komaroff convincingly demonstrates, the Persian perspective can well reverse the hierarchies and meanings on all counts. Indeed, the Qur‘ān chosen by the Shī‘a Safavid king for the Sunnī Sultan is specifically the one attributed to ‘Alī, the first Imām and true successor of the Prophet Muhammad according to Shī‘a dogma. Similarly, for all its magnificent materiality, the Shāhnama sent by the Persian king remains in its contents the chronicle of the kings of Iran, recording their victories over the Turānians, legendary ancestors of the Turkic peoples. Even the ambassador’s name, Shāh Qolī, may not be a random choice. Meaning ‘servant of the Shah’, it negates in its essentiality any ceremony of submission its wearer may be forced to perform for another ruler. Ultimately, therefore, the whole ceremony which appeared like a tribute and submission in the Ottoman visual narrative of the miniature, can equally and concomitantly mean an act of haughty defiance from the Persian perspective.

  • 9 Quoted by Alazraki from Richard Wrag, “A description of a voyage to Constantinople and Syria”, in R (...)
  • 10 Jerry Brotton, This Orient Isle: Elizabethan England and the Islamic World (London: Allen Lane, 201 (...)

4A similar point can be made about the case study by Mathilde Alazraki in this very issue of the Revue Française de Civilisation Britannique, about the “upper gowne of cloth of gold very rich, an under gowne of cloth of silver, and a girdle of Turkie worke, rich and faire” sent in 1593 by the Ottoman Sultana Safiye as a gift to Elizabeth I. The gift, Alazraki reminds us, had been chosen on the advice of the English ambassador Edward Barton, who considered that “a sute of princely attire being after the Turkish fashion would for the rareness thereof be acceptable in England”.9 But as Jerry Brotton equally compellingly demonstrates, what may pass to the ambassador as a curiosity likely to please the English Queen for its exoticism can potentially also mean from the Sultana’s perspective a robe of honour making the wearer a vassal to the Ottomans.10

  • 11 There are several seventeenth-century editions for Herbert’s text. In this article I use only the f (...)

5So how much of these potentially reversible processes of meaning surrounding acts of gifting were accessible to European travellers’ understanding in Muslim lands and to the readers of their accounts back home in the early modern period? Linguistic clues may be gathered when we encounter foreign terms suggesting specific, non-translatable practices in an English text. Sometimes the foreign word visually stands out as not naturalised when it is printed in italic type, and at other times it can be accompanied by a marginal gloss or an English synonym given as clarification to the main text. Even when that English synonym is simply “gift”, the doubling of terms witnesses to the fact that English terminology is to be understood as an approximation and not a one-size-fits-all concept. Such is the case for the first two eastern gift terms to enter the English language in print over the course of the seventeenth century: pīshkash in Thomas Herbert’s A Relation of Some Yeares Travaile, Begvnne Anno 1626 (1634, second edition 1638),11 and khil‘at first appearing in the English translation by John Phillips of French traveller Jean-Baptiste Tavernier’s Six Voyages (1677). The number of occurrences and the variety of contexts for each term in those two works make the study rewarding when it comes to assessing their range of applications and misapplications, or the understandings and misunderstandings surrounding their practices.

Herbert’s pīshkash

6Appearing multiple times in Herbert’s account, pīshkash is defined in our modern OED as “a fine or present made to the ruling authority on receiving an appointment or an assignment of revenue”, with a first attested usage dated 1619 in manuscript documents related to the East India Company. Such a definition places us right away in a circuit of bribery that the Company would need to enter in order to secure trading privileges against a tough economic context of global competition. But looking at the term’s Persian etymology opens up a different avenue, involving not just value for money, but a physical, hierarchical performance, since the term literally means “drawing, carrying forward” a gift, hence implying a protocol of humility for a special gift presented by an inferior to a superior. As a terminology in practice, pīshkash is therefore more aptly to be understood, not as a neutral “gift” of value in a monetary transaction, but as a symbolic tribute or mark of fealty towards a ruler and a system, as seen above in full form with the example of the Safavid ambassador to the court of Selim II. The term in its literal meaning thus suggests a form of bonding and a rite of integration for the newcomers in the system, placing themselves under the protection of an authority and getting tolerated in the land by the latter’s special favour. Failure of the protocol and absence of the ritual expected with the gift would diminish or even negate the object’s symbolic value and social function.

  • 12 1638 edition, p. 206.
  • 13 1638 edition, p. 225.

7It is this whole polyglot background of the practised term that helps us understand its full valency and function in Thomas Herbert’s account of his travels in Persia and India (1626-1630) as a younger member of the train of Sir Dodmore Cotton, Charles I’s ambassador to Shāh Abbās I. The term appears once in Herbert’s 1634 edition of his travels, and six times in the 1638 edition. The spelling is not fully stabilised even in the second edition, where is comes mostly as “piscash”, but once also as “pishcash”, and the typesetters go for italics in half the cases while sometimes capitalisation is used too. Some usages clearly limit themselves to the dark side of gifting as bribery and corruption, as in the following passage about the court favourite “Emamgoly-cawn” (Imāmqolī Khān, governor of Fars, is meant): “not any Mirza, Cawn, Sultan, nor Beglerbeg that depended upon the Pot-shaughs [Pādshāh, the Great King, here Shāh Abbās I] smiles, but in an awfull complement, made him [meaning the court favourite] their Anchor by some annual piscash, bribe, or other”.12 Such is also the case in this other passage, on the King’s own appetite for costly gifts: “without some piscash was no saluting him”.13

  • 14 1634 edition, p. 51.
  • 15 1638 edition, p. 124.

8But other occurrences in Herbert’s text give us a fuller view of the performance behind the sheer materiality of the gift. Such is the case when the embassy first reaches Persia at the southern port of Gombroone – today’s Bandar Abbās – and is entertained by the local Sultan before setting off towards the capital, Isfahān. Interestingly, the item produced upon arrival is not a pīshkash, but a royal farmān or credential getting the ambassador admittance into the land. The pīshkash is resorted to only later, when specific protection by the Sultan is needed for setting off on the road. This implies his coming in person to make his presence visible to all as the travellers’ protector: “the Sultan, who after a Piscash or present giuen him (fiue miles accompanying us) returned”.14 The 1638 edition, more developed in its details than the first, adds to this episode by recording the Sultan’s ritual formulae upon receipt of the gift: “the Sultan (…) who (well pleas’d with the Piscash or Present our Ambassador had given him) payed us all a hundred Sallams and Tesselams: that is, God speed you well, God keepe you”.15

  • 16 1638 edition, pp. 247-8.

9If the pīshkash is not just a valuable but a performance and a ritual of integration as the example above illustrated, we may note that this performance also needs a specific context and an appropriate timing. One possible pointer to an awareness of this aspect on the part of Herbert is the location of the word on his list of Persian vocabulary, provided as a kind of phrasebook for future travellers in both editions quoted from here. Herbert’s more expanded six-page lexicon, appearing pp. 245-50 in the 1638 edition, is interestingly not presented alphabetically, but comes as a set of contextual associations of ideas. It starts, quite expectedly, with terms of reference to God and faith, followed by social hierarchy, from king and nobility to servants and slaves. Body parts and commodities follow, and then come the vocabulary of social interaction and rituals of sociability. This is where we find “piscash” defined as “a Gift”, coming between the Persian term for “a Towell” and the ones for “a Platter” and “a Plate”.16 The location could suggest the right moment for making an offering is between the handwashing ceremony upon arrival and the serving of the meal which follows the negotiations. Insults, compliments, and small talk examples wrap up the phrasebook as possible follow-ups to the ceremony and the successful or failing negotiations within that context.

  • 17 1638 edition, p. 95.

10Beyond the traveller’s own experience of the practised terminology, one last occurrence in the 1638 edition signals his understanding of pīshkash as a ritual of social integration, or in this specific case re-integration. The passage comes from Herbert’s summary of the tumultuous father-son relationship between the reigning Mughal emperor Jahāngīr and the crown prince Khurram – the future Shāh Jahān – and records the peace-making efforts attempted by the son around 1612 after a rebellion. The ritual of submission by the son towards his father culminates in the offering of a pīshkash which at this point is quite clearly miles away from the reductive sense of “bribe” with which we started: “hee [meaning prince Khurram] addes a pishcash of rare coignes, a hundred choise Elephants, and some portraits hee borrowed from the Portugals. They are all well taken; his sonnes respected, and word is sent him from Assaph-cawn [the Grand Vizier, and the prince’s father-in-law] of hopes to re-ingraft him”.17 Here, pīshkash is rather a tribute and a mark of submission, requiring an intermediary and a public admittance of one’s inferior status by sending a gift ahead of coming in person to be accepted. Beyond its monetary value, the gift is here a marker of social hierarchy, which weakens the son by making him the foreigners’ debtor, while proportionately reinforcing the authority of the father over him. Herbert’s underlining specifically the debt to the Portuguese, incurred by the prince through this process of humiliation, again indicates the author’s awareness of the hierarchy-building consequences of gifting. Herbert’s detailed account of prince Khurram’s humiliation confirms, in my view, his understanding of the practised usage of the term pīshkash wherever he prefers it to “gift” in composing his travelogue.

Tavernier’s khil‘at

  • 18 The Six Voyages of John Baptista Tavernier, Baron of Aubonne through Turkey, into Persia and the Ea (...)

11The same sense of hierarchy-making accompanies, at the other end of the spectrum of performance, the second gift term of Islamicate provenance which joined the English lexicon in the seventeenth century and on which I would like to focus: Khil‘at. The term is defined by the OED as “a dress of honour presented by a king or other dignitary as a mark of distinction to the person receiving it; hence, any handsome present made by an acknowledged superior”. It has a first attested usage taken from the English translation of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier’s account of his travels to Mughal India, The Six Voyages of John Baptista Tavernier (1677), published one year after the original French edition.18 Here again, we need the Persian and Arabic etymologies to see the performance beyond the gifted robe, since the Arabic radical khal‘ involves emptying out and disrobing. The ritual suggested through the choice of this term is that of bestowing on a vassal a garment which has just been taken off the ruler’s own body. This metonymic gift is therefore to be understood as part of the ruler’s public persona of power and authority, that he or she accepts to share with an acknowledged vassal. The gift of the khil‘at thus opens up the space of a local imagined community around the sovereign to make room for the newcomer getting formally naturalised and integrated.

  • 19 See Nicolas de Largillère, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier en costume oriental (1679), Herzog Anton Ulrich (...)
  • 20 “Voyage to Persia” section, p. 180.

12The translation of Tavernier’s travels to Persia and India includes twenty-four occurrences of the term, spelt “calaat” in the English text and systematically italicised. Some of them are concerned with the particulars of the material items composing the garment, especially for the khil‘ats Tavernier himself receives from Shāh Safī of Persia and the Great Mughal Shāh Jahān and which he wears on the surviving portraits of him in oriental fashion.19 The following passage illustrates such usage: “You must take notice, that the Persians call a Calaat, any Present which one person makes to another inferior to him in dignity; sometimes a Vest alone, sometimes a Tunick with the Girdle only, sometimes a Turbant, or a Horse, with Bridle and Saddle; to those in the Army the King sends a Sword or a Dagger, and all these go by the name of Calaat”.20

  • 21 “Voyage to India” section, p. 46.

13Again, beyond the munificence of the gift, what the ritual centre-stages is the metonymic value of the object. A passage in the “Voyage to India” section devoted to the description of Great Mughal’s palace in Agra makes this connection most ostensible: before getting to the King’s presence, Tavernier explains, “there is a little Hall, rais’d some two or three steps high from the ground. This is the Wardrobe where the Royal Garments are kept; and from whence the King sends for the Calaat, or a whole Habit for a man, when he would honour any Stranger, or any one of his Subjects”.21

  • 22 “Voyage to India” section, p. 67.

14As the examples above show, the ritual is clearly not just established, but understood as established by the experienced European traveller, which is the persona Tavernier gives himself as he documents oriental usages for the benefit of his readers back home. But at other moments in his travelogue, Tavernier distinguishes his cultural position by contrasting it with that of less seasoned visitors. On those occasions he records instances of cultural hiatus, which threatens whenever the foreign recipients, not understanding the symbolism implied in the bestowing of the khil‘at, refuse what they mistake for just an over-expensive item of clothing not likely to be worn, a useless gift. The most extreme example in this respect is that of the Capuchin Father Ephraim visiting Golconda on his way to Pegu and who is offered a khil‘at by a Muslim Sheikh, minister and son-in-law to the King of Golconda. As Tavernier reports: “The Friar was surpriz’d at the present, and gave the Check [Sheikh] to understand, that it was not proper for him to wear it: however the Check would force him to take it, telling him he might accommodate some of his friends with it”.22 We can only imagine the embarrassment entailed by the diplomatic faux pas on both sides, for the mendicant Friar who could not wear anything other than his gown of humility, and the Sheikh whose metonymic gift of preferment and protection was refused in his own land.

15To conclude on Herbert and Tavernier’s travelogues, their examples of polyglot terminology appear to show, with their resistance to assimilation in English texts and within a European value system, that gifts, like languages, are about sharing, mutual understanding, and bonding. The practiced terminologies of these two travellers demonstrate how failure to take into consideration the added value of the rhetoric and performance going with a material gift can only lead to a communicational dead-end. This would seal not the inclusion, but the exclusion of the transacting partners in the system they wish to enter, and this is a consideration which reaches beyond the sheer materiality of the objects that early modern European visitors were ready to give or receive in their negotiations with the system.

Coda: English (mis-)practice before the terminology

  • 23 Nandini Das, Courting India (London: Bloomsbury, 2023), pp. 147-54 and 226-8.
  • 24 Richard Hakluyt, Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation, (...)

16The terminology of oriental gifting may have reached the English language only in mid-seventeenth century via these authors, at least in printed form. But as a coda, I wish to add that a late date of arrival of the lexicon in printed English texts does not mean that the principles behind those words were not used in transactions with English travellers in Muslim lands long before this moment. On the contrary, it is quite illuminating to return to earlier accounts left by English travellers to see many instances of cultural misunderstanding in contacts about which they reported with ample details, without necessarily grasping the implications of their experiences. As examples, we can turn of course to the many gift-giving and gift-receiving mishaps of Sir Thomas Roe, Britain’s first official ambassador in 1615-19 to Mughal India, as studied recently by Nandini Das detailing the relevant passages in Roe’s travelogue.23 But we can equally rewind to the accounts of Muscovy Company factors, the first Englishmen to engage in diplomatic and trade exchanges with Safavid Persia as early as the mid-1560s, under the reign of Shāh Tahmāsp I. The following passage from the Company’s fifth Persian voyage in 1568-74 and compiled in Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations is telling in this respect: “and the Shaugh himselfe bought there of him [Company merchant Thomas Banister is meant] many karsies, and made him as good payment as any man could wish, and oftentimes would send his mony for the wares before the wares were deliuered, that he might be the surer of this honourable intended dealing.”24 As seen in the quote, the merchant traveller interprets his experience as one of fair trading on the part of the Shāh as a good customer, sending payment before receiving the goods. But if we turn to the etiquette of gifting and its ordering in the land as we saw it above, we may venture to footnote the episode as a likely instance of showcasing vassal-creating on the part of the king. His sending the gold first honours the foreign visitor with a material token, which makes him subsequently receive the kersies as pīshkash from the newly arrived, rather than goods simply bought from a random merchant.

  • 25 Hakluyt, Principal Navigations, p. 346.

17Even earlier in Hakluyt’s compilation, the account of the first English trader and diplomat sent to Persia, Anthony Jenkinson in 1561, equally gains from being read against the imbalance-building consequences of accepting a khil‘at, such as the one he receives from Abdallāh khan, governor of Shirvān in north-western Iran, en route to the capital city of Qazvin. Reporting to his employers in London, the agent faithfully records the gift of “two garments of that countrey fashion, […] downe to the ground, the one of silke, and the other of silke and golde, sent vnto me from the king”. The robes, Jenkinson reports, were forced on him by the governor’s servants prior to his being received for a public audience: “and after that they caused me to put off my vpper garment, being a gowne of blacke veluet furred with Sables, they put the sayme two garments vpon my backe, and so conducted me vnto the king.”25 Here again, allegiance is forced on the traveller through the local clothing item he is made to wear, in replacement for the Russian furred coat he may have thought of as elegant and fit for the occasion, but which symbolically made him the Tsar’s vassal. The circumstance illustrates once more the distance between the perspective of the European visitor and that of his Persian host.

  • 26 Zoltan Biedermann, Anne Gerritsen and Giorgio Riello (eds.), Global Gifts: The Material Culture of (...)

18“Gifts played a key role in the making of the early modern world”, Zoltan Biedermann, Anne Gerritsen and Giorgio Riello underline as a preamble to their Global Gifts, a classic in theorising the field.26 Fully agreeing with their assessment of the identity-making value of diplomatic gifts, I wish to add that a clearer understanding of the symbolic practice and metonymic performance of those gifts, including the terminology and rituals involved, gives a better grasp of the world-making perspectives and ambitions of the transacting parties. Those perspectives are neither aligned unproblematically and commensurably, nor fully opposed, but rather overlap to yield their full identity-building meaning in cumulative manner, and it is the task of the editor of those accounts today to make that overlap visible and understandable for readers from our time.

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Bibliography

Biedermann, Zoltan, Gerritsen Anne and Riello, Giorgio (eds.), Global Gifts: The Material Culture of Diplomacy in Early Modern Eurasia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018).

Bowen, H. V., “Clive, Robert, first Baron Clive of Plassey”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edition. <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/5697>

Brotton, Jerry, This Orient Isle: Elizabethan England and the Islamic World (London: Allen Lane, 2016).

Burger, Pierre-François, “Tavernier, Jean-Baptiste”, Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2017. <http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/tavernier-jean-baptiste>.

Canby, Sheila R, The Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014).

Cohn, Bernard, Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996).

Das, Nandini, Courting India: England, Mughal India and the Origins of Empire (London: Bloomsbury, 2023).

Hakluyt, Richard, Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation, volume 1 (London: George Bishop, Ralph Newberie and Robert Barker, 1599).

Heal, Felicity, The Power of Gifts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

Herbert, Thomas, A Relation of Some Yeares Travaile, Begvunne Anno 1626 (London: William Stansby and Jacob Bloome, 1634).

Herbert, Some Yeares Travels into Divers Parts of Asia and Afrique (London: Richard Bishop, 1638).

Komaroff, Linda (ed.), Gifts of the Sultan: The Art of Giving at the Islamic Courts (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2011).

Liebersohn, Harry, The Return of the Gift: European History of a Global Idea (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

Matthee, Rudi P., “GIFT GIVING iv. In The Safavid Period,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, X/6, pp. 609-614, <http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/gift-giving-iv>.

Subrahmanyam, Sanjay, Courtly Encounters: Translating Courtliness and Violence in Early Modern Eurasia(Yale: Harvard University Press, 2012).

Tavernier, Jean-Baptiste, The Six Voyages of John Baptista Tavernier, Baron of Aubonne through Turkey, into Persia and the East-Indies, for the Space of Forty Years, tr. John Phillips (London: William Godbid, 1677).

Welch, Stuart Cary, A King’s Book of Kings: The Shah-nameh of Shah Tahmasp (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1972).

Yanagihaski, Hiroyuki, “Gifts”, in Kate Fleet, Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas and Everett Rowson (eds.), Encyclopaedia of Islam, volume 3 (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2013), pp. 111-113.

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Notes

1 Felicity Heal, The Power of Gifts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), p. 23.

2 Ibid.

3 For an overview on some of the main arguments and counterarguments in the “commensurability/incommensurability” debate, see Bernard Cohn, Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), pp. 17-18, and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Courtly Encounters: Translating Courtliness and Violence in Early Modern Eurasia (Yale: Harvard University Press, 2012), pp. 4-6.

4 For more on the specific Islamic terminology and corresponding practices, see Hiroyuki Yanagihaski’s entry on “Gifts” in the Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2013.3, ed. Kate Fleet, Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas and Everett Rowson (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2013), pp. 111-13. For the Persianate sphere in the early modern period, see also Rudi P. Matthee, “GIFT GIVING iv. In The Safavid Period,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, X/6, pp. 609-614, <http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/gift-giving-iv>.

5 See for details H. V. Bowen’s ODNB entry on “Clive, Robert, first Baron Clive of Plassey”, <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/5697>.

6 Quoted in Harry Liebersohn, The Return of the Gift: European History of a Global Idea (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), p. 11.

7 Topkapi Saray Museum Library, Istanbul, MS A.3595, fols. 53b-54a. Reproduced and studied in Linda Komaroff (ed.), Gifts of the Sultan: The Art of Giving at the Islamic Courts (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2011), p. 17.

8 For more on this volume which is perhaps the most precious illustrated manuscript commissioned under the Safavid kings, see Stuart Cary Welch, A King’s Book of Kings: The Shah-nameh of Shah Tahmasp (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1972), and more sadly on its later mutilations and dispersals, Sheila R. Canby, The Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014).

9 Quoted by Alazraki from Richard Wrag, “A description of a voyage to Constantinople and Syria”, in Richard Hakluyt (ed.), Principal Navigations (Glasgow: Glasgow University Press, 1904), vol. 6, p. 102.

10 Jerry Brotton, This Orient Isle: Elizabethan England and the Islamic World (London: Allen Lane, 2016), p. 190.

11 There are several seventeenth-century editions for Herbert’s text. In this article I use only the first and the second, for which the references are: Thomas Herbert, A Relation of Some Yeares Travaile, Begvunne Anno 1626 (London: William Stansby and Jacob Bloome, 1634), and Thomas Herbert, Some Yeares Travels into Divers Parts of Asia and Afrique (London: Richard Bishop, 1638).

12 1638 edition, p. 206.

13 1638 edition, p. 225.

14 1634 edition, p. 51.

15 1638 edition, p. 124.

16 1638 edition, pp. 247-8.

17 1638 edition, p. 95.

18 The Six Voyages of John Baptista Tavernier, Baron of Aubonne through Turkey, into Persia and the East-Indies, for the Space of Forty Years, translated by John Phillips (London: William Godbid, 1677).

19 See Nicolas de Largillère, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier en costume oriental (1679), Herzog Anton Ulrich – Museum Braunschweig. The painting served as the basis for the drawing of Tavernier in the Persian dress given to him in 1665 by the King of Persia, used for the frontispiece of the 1712 Paris edition of his Six Voyages. See for details Pierre-François Burger, “TAVERNIER, JEAN-BAPTISTE,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2017, <http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/tavernier-jean-baptiste>.

20 “Voyage to Persia” section, p. 180.

21 “Voyage to India” section, p. 46.

22 “Voyage to India” section, p. 67.

23 Nandini Das, Courting India (London: Bloomsbury, 2023), pp. 147-54 and 226-8.

24 Richard Hakluyt, Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation, volume 1 (London: George Bishop, Ralph Newberie and Robert Barker,1599), p. 395.

25 Hakluyt, Principal Navigations, p. 346.

26 Zoltan Biedermann, Anne Gerritsen and Giorgio Riello (eds.), Global Gifts: The Material Culture of Diplomacy in Early Modern Eurasia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), p. 1.

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References

Electronic reference

Ladan Niayesh, “Lost in Translation? The Terminology and Practice of Islamic Gifts in Early Modern Travel Accounts in English”Revue Française de Civilisation Britannique [Online], XXIX-3 | 2024, Online since 10 June 2024, connection on 24 July 2024. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/rfcb/12148; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/11vhc

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About the author

Ladan Niayesh

LARCA/CNRS-UMR 8225
Université Paris Cité

Ladan Niayesh is Professor of early modern English studies at Université Paris Cité and a member of the LARCA (UMR8225) research centre. Her work focuses on early modern English travels to Muslim Asia and their historical and literary receptions in Europe. Some past publications include Three Romances of Eastern Conquest (Manchester University Press, 2018) and the coedited collection of essays Eastern Resonances (Routledge, 2019). She has just finished coediting the collective Writing Distant Travels and Multilingualism in Early Modern England with Chloë Houston and Sophie Lemercier-Goddard (forthcoming with Brepols).


Ladan Niayesh est professeur en études anglophones de la première modernité à Université Paris Cité, où elle est également membre du LARCA (UMR 8225, CNRS). Sa recherche porte essentiellement sur l’histoire et la littérature de voyage anglaises aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles, plus spécifiquement dans les interactions avec l’orient musulman. Parmi ses publications passées figurent Three Romances of Eastern Conquest (Manchester University Press, 2018) et le collectif Eastern Resonances (Routledge, 2019). Elle vient de terminer la coédition, avec Chloë Houston et Sophie Lemercier-Goddard, d’un autre volume collectif, Writing Distant Travels and Multilingualism in Early Modern England (à paraître chez Brepols).

By this author

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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